The essence of Inclusive Leadership is to foster environments where everyone feels valued and respected. Central to this concept is cultural humility, which recognizes the importance of acknowledging and understanding different cultures and perspectives. We are all products of our environments. This has led to some good things, but it has also created a society where power and privilege are unequally distributed. Only by embracing cultural humility can we begin dismantling power imbalances and creating truly inclusive workplaces. Let’s look at cultural humility, its importance in inclusive leadership, and practical steps for developing it.

What is Cultural Humility?

This is the definition we use at Cinga:

Commitment to continue the work of cultural sensitivity through self-evaluation and self-critique, to redress the power imbalances in relations to others, and to develop mutually beneficial and non-paternalistic partnerships with communities on behalf defined populations.

Cultural humility begins by acknowledging that we are all products of our environments, with our own biases and limited perspectives. Traditional approaches view cultural sensitivity or awareness as an academic exercise, studying other cultures in isolation like a history lesson or as if they were in a fishbowl. Cultural humility goes beyond that. Cultural humility is a mindset. Practicing cultural humility means recognizing that we have limited knowledge about others’ cultures and their influence on their worldview. It gives us permission to not have to know everything. Instead, we can get curious and immerse ourselves in other perspectives. Cultural humility calls for a commitment to continuous learning, self-evaluation, and self-critique to address potential power imbalances that may exist between individuals and communities.

Why Does Cultural Humility Matter?

Cultural humility is indispensable for leaders striving to create inclusive environments.
When leaders recognize that every individual’s experiences and perspectives are shaped by their cultural background (including their own) they can mitigate the harmful effects of “othering” and hierarchical thinking that permeate the workplace.

From this baseline, they can create an environment of psychological safety where every team member can contribute, and the company benefits from diversity.

How to Develop Cultural Humility

To embody cultural humility, leaders can take several practical steps.

1. Commit to learning

First and foremost, an honest commitment to learning and actively seeking knowledge about cultures different from their own is essential. This includes reading about people’s stories, particularly those from marginalized communities, to gain insight into their experiences and challenges.

For instance, understanding the intergenerational trauma caused by residential school experiences can foster empathy and inform inclusive actions regarding our indigenous colleagues.

2. Approach with curiosity

Secondly, leaders must approach cultural humility with curiosity and a genuine desire to understand others, while refraining from judgment.

Recognizing that one’s own values and beliefs shape personal identity and influence interactions with others is a critical aspect of cultural humility. By engaging in open and respectful dialogue, leaders can build meaningful connections and bridge cultural gaps.

3. Stand shoulder-to-shoulder

Moreover, leaders should prioritize partnership and collaboration based on mutual respect rather than paternalistic attitudes. No one culture is superior to others. Embracing a non-hierarchical approach helps establish inclusive relationships where individuals feel valued for their unique perspectives.

Cultural humility encourages leaders to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with marginalized individuals, offering support and solidarity rather than sympathy or pity.

Cultural humility is a vital attribute for leaders aiming to foster diverse and inclusive environments.

Cultural humility means recognizing the limitations of our own knowledge and engaging in a lifelong journey of learning and self-reflection. By actively seeking to understand the experiences, perspectives, and histories of others, leaders can build authentic connections and mitigate power imbalances. Cultivating cultural humility allows leaders to create inclusive spaces where individuals from all cultures and backgrounds feel valued and empowered.

Through this commitment to ongoing learning and partnership, inclusive leaders can not only create great places to work – they can also contribute to a more equitable and harmonious society.